Being a Barista: What they don't tell you.


Ah, being a barista is - on the whole - a pretty fun job to have. They're featured in so much of pop culture now you'd expect it to be more of a glamorous job than what it actually is. Most of us have seen how infuriated Rachel became at Central Perk, and more recently how much Emma Stone's character in La La Land truly wanted out. Heck, if you know me well enough you'll know that I'm actually trying to advance in my career and move away from the Barista life.

I get so many people telling me about how it's their dream to work in a coffee shop and be a barista as it looks so gosh darn fun. Firstly, may I add, I obviously highlight the better areas of the job more than any other aspects. Let's be honest, I doubt a photo of me washing up would rack up half as much exposure than a fancy coffee I had just made...!

You don't make much coffee, especially at the beginning.

In the first coffee shop I had ever worked in (Yorks), I never ever touched the coffee machine. And I worked there for a significant amount of time. I don't criticise this at all, and recently got in a bit of a tiff with another ex employer over their willingness to let anyone serve a coffee (resulting in a product which wasn't satisfactory).

However, this needs to be stressed. In my five years of coffee, I have seen so many people stroll into a coffee shop job expecting to rev the steam wand all day, or pull shots until the sun has set. This isn't the case.

Making coffee is a skill (cue skeptics scoffing), and it takes a lot of knowledge, passion, and practice to get it right. You wouldn't expect someone to be crafting restaurant style meals from day one, now, would you? It's exactly the same with coffee. You have to ensure you don't burn the milk, nor make it too cold. The right consistency is needed to, let alone the process of learning all of the drinks on the menu also takes an age.

You won't always be on the coffee machine, even when you are trained.

Going on from that note, I wanted to dispel the misconception that once trained, all you're going to do is have a whale of a time on the machine/brew bar. This is definitely not the case. Your job is divided up to other areas of what is usually regarded as an 'all rounder'. A lot goes on behind the scenes of a coffee shop; there's a constant stream of washing up and cleaning wherever you turn, as well as service roles such as running and till-duty.

Don't be fooled by all of those cute depictions of baristas in popular culture with their heads down tired of life and people - you wont last long at all if you cant uphold great customer service. If you don't enjoy that aspect of a coffee shop role, then being a barista really isn't for you (and your colleagues will hate you for constantly trying to hog the coffee machine).

Damn, it's hard.

Most service related jobs are never given the true appreciation they deserve, and this especially goes for the barista. Your hours are tough - long shifts combined with super early or late hours and weekend working can quickly take its toll on someone who isn't used to this kind of lifestyle. However, there are many benefits reaped from this kind of shift work, including:

  1. Sure you may work weekends, but you then get off peak days as holiday. I've never really been a weekend person, and trust me I am dreading it when I start my new job as this is the routine I will have to get used to. Weekdays are much quieter than weekends, and theres less urgency to get up and do things and make the most of it (I call this the 'weekend prerogative, but that's a blog post on its own..) - not only this, but you're practically guaranteed a seat in coffee shops, bars and restaurants, unlike weekends when everywhere seems to be crammed to the full of people.

  2. Various starting and finishing hours of your shift may mean you have to wake up super early (although that's never been too much of a problem for me...), but this in turn makes you miss the horrific commute that is rush hour. I live in a suburban 'commuter' town just outside central London, and thus anywhere from 6:30 to 9:30 is hell on earth to travel in. If your coffee shop opens at 7:00, then you'll have to have hopped on a train/bus by at most 6am - thus missing rush hour. I still do this, and actually leave super early in the mornings when I don't officially start work at 9:30. I just sit around in a coffee shop around the corner instead of gruelling through the mayhem that is commuter chaos.

  3. Just from my experience, it seems to be much easier to book time off (unpaid, mind you.) in shift work rather than a standard salary 9-5 job. This seems to be down to the fact that you're working in a team with very similar skills and job roles, and thus you can easily swap with one another if a shift is not working out for you.

Although there are some great positives to the kind of shift work you receive as a barista, these hours are very tiring. If you're not someone who can sustain their energy productively throughout the day, or they easily 'flag' and take their emotions out on others when they're tired and hungry, then this kind of job is not for you. You're on your feet all day, running around with various errands and conducting a lot of physical activity which people don't realise until you begin a barista job.

There's sexism.

Oh ouch, the last one had to be a bit of a tricky one to discuss now, didn't it?

Now, now, lets disclaim the fact first that I am a feminist. If you follow me you probably already know this, but if you're new to this blog and don't like this idea - then you may as well leave.

Walk into a coffee shop, there's usually (emphasise *usually*) predominantly men in the shop. Heck, this shop I'm in now typing this up only consisted of men, and ive only ever seen one female working here. Not only this, but women tend to be allocated service and cleaning roles, whereas men tend to stay more firmly onto coffee. Why is this? No clue - the most plausible idea I could think of was that women "are better at cleaning" and "people like to be served by girls". Okay, no, I take that back - I'm joking.....but I have been told that by male colleagues in a handful of shops I have worked in.

Ouch. I know.

In a previous coffee shop, the Press Room in Surbiton (named and shamed), I was paid a significant amount less in my role than the male counterpart who replaced my position after I left. Ye-ouch.

As I stated before, this will not be the case with all coffee shops, but both genders do tend to be favoured in certain positions - which is not ideal for anyone if these roles are not their ideal position. Heck, I've seen close male friends of mine who have been pushed onto roles in the coffee shop when they would rather simply be on the till. You would think it was relatively simple, but coffee shop managers seem to make the allocation of roles much fussier than needed.

And there we are then! If you've ticked your way through all of this and you still think you can handle it, then I say go for it! Being a barista to me has been the most fun job I could have done as I grew up - so much so that I'm staying in the coffee industry well after I've graduated.

Being a barista is a truly rewarding job, and do not mistake this post as a way for me to put people off becoming one. In my time in coffee shops, I've seen people been torn apart and become physically ill from over exerting themselves and I would not want to wish this upon any of my readers and would rather get it out in the open what is expected in this kind of job role.

If any of you have any further questions related to being a barista, feel free to drop me a line on any of my social media networks, and I'll try and get back to you ASAP!

Have a great day my lovelies!

#coffee #coffeeshop #cafe #barista #baristablogger #londoncoffee #coffeeindustry #specialitycoffee

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